Look, I’m not going to defend the Saints’ bounty program. It was potentially dangerous and represents the worst part of professional football: the macho bullshit that comes hand in hand with the excitement, gambling and other alluring features that have made the NFL so insanely successful.
Every team in the history of the NFL has probably had some version of a bounty program, but that doesn’t justify what New Orleans did. Their program was clearly institutionalized, and Gregg Williams and his players and fellow coaches were obviously careless about keeping the bounties a secret. If you’re gonna do something dumb, at least shut the fuck up about it.
So the Saints deserved to be punished by the high and mighty authoritarian power of Roger Goodell. Sure they did. They were stupid and they got caught. But the severity of the punishment, and the reason for its severity, are just the latest examples of the power-drink ego trip that the insecure NFL commissioner has been on since his ascension to the post.
As Bill Barnwell explains, the insane lengths of the suspensions for Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and Mickey Loomis was not due to the bounty program itself, but due to the trio’s botched cover-up. To Goodell, it’s a far worse crime that anyone would dare lie to him than to pay players money to intentionally injure the opposition. Which is fucking ridiculous.
The NFL is the most autocratic of all American sports leagues (see the recent Redskins/Cowboys salary cap ruling if you don’t believe me), and Goodell is its most dictatorial leader yet. Because Americans love football so much, the NFL has a lot of leeway and often doesn’t face the same kind of criticism the other three sports leagues do, which means Goodell feel likes he can get away with anything and have no one dare question his authority.
That’s why he can do something so blatantly hypocritical as to issue these suspensions in the name of player safety while still fighting for an 18-game schedule, a move there’s no reason for aside from naked greed and a move that would do more to compromise player safety than anything since the invention of the forward pass.
Read Peter King’s profile of Goodell. (Ignore the drooling, fanboy tone). The guy is obsessed with projecting an image of authority. In a way, he’s a perfect match for the NFL — he’s a big bag of posturing and dick swinging. When his servants (everyone who works for the league, including owners, players, and coaches) dare lie to him or attempt a cover-up, they’re inherently testing his authority. And Goodell does not like to be tested.
Every time this guy gets to dole out discipline, he views it as a personal test of his leadership. If he hands down anything but the strictest punishment, he thinks it will be a sign of weakness, and that the league will then turn into an anarchic, post-apocalyptic free-for-all of cheating and unbridled violence. Even worse, he fears people might question that he’s the right man to lead the NFL. Every single action Goodell takes comes from the fear of losing what he has.
Every bully works from a place of insecurity, and Goodell is no different. He was handed the reins of a multi-billion-dollar enterprise, and he lives in fear that he’ll be the one to fuck it up. That the media and owners will start to see through his facade of toughness and bravado. So he comes riding into situations like the bounty program shootin’ first and asking questions later. And if he feels that anyone is any way daring to impugn the great and mighty NFL COMMISSIONER, then he kicks the bodies some after he’s done shootin’.
Of course, who suffers the most from Goodell’s draconian punishment? Saints fans. Their team is decimated for the foreseeable future, with no steady, long-term leadership, lost draft picks, and low morale. And hey, it’s not like New Orleans needs the Saints, right?
Goodell ain’t care. If the Saints dare appeal, he rules on that too. And he’s certainly not going to reduce his own sanctions. If anything, he’ll lengthen the suspensions for daring to question his mighty judgment.
God rules in mysterious ways. Long ago, Job learned not to ask why. Now it’s time for Sean Payton and Saints fans to learn that same lesson.